January signals a fresh start—here’s to hoping 2021 delivers fewer hurdles than 2020—and a focus on mentorship.
In 2002, MENTOR National and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health launched National Mentoring Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness of the national need for mentors. Mentors can provide entrepreneurs and small business owners with advice, perspective, lessons learned, encouragement, and much more, with no financial bias or strings attached.
At Bunker Labs, we don’t offer a mentorship program per se, but from years of listening to the community, we can say we are a program filled with mentorship. We’ve heard from our community members that they have found invaluable mentors through Bunker programs. Fellow veterans and military spouses who provide practical advice in how to organize operations, accountability to continually move the ball forward, and motivation to hustle hard.
A mentor doesn’t have to be someone who is at the top of their industry. People at any stage can mentor someone with less experience. For example, a recent Veterans in Residence alum with a handful of employees might mentor a new cohort member on how to make their first hire. And someone can be both a mentor and a mentee at the same time. There are always people who are further along and newer to the entrepreneurship journey.
It’s easy to see how mentees benefit from mentorship—they gain lessons learned, an outside perspective, and support. But mentors benefit too from having increased connections with up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and from taking the time to reflect on their own journey and what has worked and what hasn’t.
With that in mind, here are a few ways people can independently find and become mentors in Bunker Online.
Finding a Mentor
- Have a clear vision for where you want to be in one year and in five years. Make a list of people in Bunker Online are in a similar position to your future goal self.
- Be a good citizen in the Bunker online community—ask questions, start discussions, and provide responses to other’s questions. You’ll enrich the community, but also make it more likely that a potential mentor is familiar with you and interested in building a deeper relationship.
- If you have someone in mind as a potential mentor, first build a relationship through more informal conversations about your business goals or trajectory before asking them to become a mentor.
“Is there anyone who has experience with building out a brewery and tasting room who would be willing to share their experiences with me?”
- If you make a formal mentorship request, be clear in what you are proposing in terms of format and time commitment. For example, are you looking for a recurring video chat? A weekly 15-minute phone call? A monthly in-person coffee post-pandemic? It’s good to be flexible if your ideal mentor doesn’t have quite as much time available as you’d like. Make sure what they can provide is enough to be meaningful to you.
- Once someone has agreed to provide mentorship and you’ve arranged to meet, prepare questions or topics you want to discuss to make the most of the time.
Becoming a Mentor
- Consider how much time you have to dedicate to mentorship each month and set boundaries with yourself and your potential mentee(s).
- Establish and document guidelines for mentees. For example, do you expect your mentee to create and share an agenda for your meetings? Is it okay for them to email you between meetings with ad hoc questions or should they save them for your next call?
- Begin the relationship by defining goals. It’s important to understand what your mentee’s professional goals are. If needed, help them refine those goals into realistic, actionable targets. (The SMART goal framework is a good place to start.)
- Be an active listener and ask critical questions to help your mentee gain independent problem-solving skills. Let them lead the discovery process.
- Talk about your own failures as well as your successes. Mentees will learn from both.
If you want to expand the scope of your mentor search beyond Bunker Online, SCORE is a trusted program that’s been pairing business mentors and mentees since 1964. SCORE also has volunteer opportunities to become a mentor.
Join the Online Community
Keep up with what is happening at Bunker Labs and connect with other military connected and veteran business owners by joining the online business networking platform, Bunker Online.
Becoming A Great Mentor (APA)
The Benefits of Mentoring in Business (Concordia)